Saturday, 2 August 2014

A blog from our lovely patron, Elizabeth Buchan, with some WforW information first from Margaret Graham

Hi Everyone

Over this gloriously sunny summer, WforW have been busy putting together the new writing competitions. This year we are raising money for individuals, Forces Support and as usual, the creative arts at Tedworth House Recovery Centre, and as you know, every penny raised goes to the cause.  The competitions will be ready for November 11th and the excitement is building amongst the grannies! 

We will let you know all the details at the end of the summer, but start preparing those self-published novels and memoirs in readiness, as well as brushing off your flash fiction skills.

We are also arranging a brilliant WforW fundraising LitFest day for Saturday April 18 2015 at Downley, High Wycombe, so do keep the day free. Once we have all the speakers set  in stone we'll let you know the details, but so far we have some belters. 

The 'grands' have excelled themselves this summer.  Josie, aged 10, arrived after school a couple of weeks ago with something held behind her back. It transpired she had written a speech which she proceeded to recite to me: 

'Me and my friends at school made some bracelets out of loom bands to help raise money for WforW and we raised over £11 but some was stolen, so we now have £5.27. We raised this money because you are all an inspiration to me and my friends.'  

She drew the bag of money from behind her back. 

The bag actually contained £16 because Meg had done the same at her school and they'd put all the money together. I think it's the most valuable £16 there has ever been... And more, Josie and her friends just kept going each time the money was stolen, (which it was, twice). They really do feel that the wounded need every penny.

But that's not the end of it:

Meet CHUM - 

The grands have created, and show us in a selfie, the WforW mascot out of loom bands. CHUM, stands for charitable, homely, unique mascot and CHUM will be present at everything we do. Thanks girls. Love the selfie!

Now we hear from Elizabeth Buchan. Elizabeth and I have known one another for more years than either of us care to remember and not only is Elizabeth a fantastic writer, but HUGE fun, and one of the busiest people I know.

I see she's just been interviewed in the brilliant on-line Frost Magazine, and I do hope Frost will be reviewing I Can't Begin To Tell You, which is Elizabeth's latest novel. Frost Magazine writes such comprehensive and detailed reviews. Incidentally, I hear that Frost editor, Catherine Balavage's excellent ebook, How to be a Successful Actor,  is really taking off, here and in the States. All very exciting.

I have enjoyed all Elizabeth Buchan's novels, which have been huge sellers worldwide, and I have a sneaking favourite in Consider the Lily which won the Romantic Novelists' Association  Novel of the Year Award. It's an evocative coming together of love, gardening, family and loss, and packed with empathy and warmth. And for those lovers of Downton Abbey it is a must.

Reviews for Consider the Lily
'An outstanding, beautifully written and memorable story' - Good Book Guide 'And old fashioned novel in the best sense of the word' -Chicago Tribune
'A gorgeously well written tale: funny, sad sophisticated' - The Independent
'The literary equivalent of an English country garden' - Sunday Times
'In her way Elizabeth Buchan is a chronicler of time and atmosphere as adept as Jane Austen' - Birmingham Post
'Superb characterisation, an absorbing love story and wonderful evocation of an English country house and garden make this a joy to read' - Annabel
'An excellent story... strong imaginative power... wonderful atmosphere' - Joanna Trollope

But now onto news of Elizabeth Buchan's latest novel which I will be reading very soon, and which I suspect I will love as much as Consider the Lily...

I Can’t Begin to Tell You
By Elizabeth Buchan
Some years ago, I wrote a novel about a female SOE agent going into occupied France during the Second World War. It was a fascinating project to research and to write – and, as the family helpfully informed me, I became an obsessive.  Soon after it was published, the phone went and a voice asked me if I was the author of Light of the Moon as she used to work for SOE’s F-section and she had liked the book?
         We became friends and, over the years, Noreen Riols (who has recently published her own remarkable memoir, The Secret Ministry of Ag and Fish) and I often discussed various aspects of the SOE. Such is her generosity, she invited me down to Valençay to celebrate with French veterans and descendants of SOE agents the seventieth anniversary of the first parachutage into France.  It was an extraordinary day. Princess Anne arrived in a helicopter, the town was en fete and the service conducted with banners and music at the memorial was poignant and unforgettable.
         Over my writing life, I have found that I like to circle around a subject, often returning to it to write another novel from a different angle. I knew one day that I would return to the SOE. However, in the interim, many other writers have seized on SOE,  particularly F-section. I needed to rethink and to find a fresh approach. Someone said: ‘why don’t you look at Denmark?’
         I took their advice and found there was actually a new area in which to roam as the writer. Denmark had had a very unusual war – it had been annexed peacefully and the Reich had bestowed on it the status of a ‘model protectorate’. This remained -  more or less - the case until August 1943 when the order went out to round up the Jews. From that moment, the situation in Denmark changed.
         A novel is not a history. It is fiction and fiction tries to explore emotional truths and human behaviour. So what was I writing about? At the early stage, I thought it would be about the tensions and problems of someone taking a decision to enter this infant theatre of war – i.e. the covert and undercover. Why would they do it?  How would they manage?  The novel would also be about lies. An agent must live on many levels and not only has to construct a charade for the enemy but for friends, lovers, spouses and family.
         I thought further around the subject. Do women make better spies and undercover agents? If so, why?  Actually, if you are the right temperament both sexes are neck and neck on that. Where women had an advantage in the Second World War was the Germans weren’t expecting women to be spies or agents.
         What else did women do? Some of the answers were also to be found in the SOE. There were women coders and decoders – such as my character, Ruby Ingram, brilliant mathematician and angry feminist.  There were also the listeners, such as Mary Voss, the FANY,  who listened out day and night for the call signs of the agents and, although they had no idea of their sex or their names, grew to know their agents simply by listening to their ‘handwriting’ or ‘fist’ as they tapped out their messages in Morse from whatever hiding places they could manage. Who was to say that the coders and listeners didn’t cherish and love these agents and strove always to protect them – even if it meant taking on the bosses?
         Even in relatively peaceful Denmark, life was difficult and loyalties were conflicted and bought much suffering. Searching to find the plot of the novel, I read histories, memoirs,  biographies and  then finally … I stumbled across a biography of an English woman who worked for SOE during the war while her Danish  husband tolerated the occupation. They lived in a house with a lake in front of it.
         I had my story. 

 I Can’t Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan (Michael Joseph Hardback & E-Book, £14.99, 28th August 2014)

To find out more about Elizabeth Buchan, go to



  1. How fascinating. Such brave women whose efforts went mostly unrecognised throughout the war. I never think of Denmark having any involvement in the war as Norway seems to be the focus of so many stories. I shall be adding this to my wish list. It will be perfect autumn reading for when the nights draw in.

    1. Thanks Tracy. Yes, it does sound a stunner doesn't it. I read a non-fiction book about the men and women dropped behind enemy lines, and agree with you that Denmark just doesn't figure. I went there on a school trip which is quite another story but the people were welcoming, and somehow totally self-confident and sure in themselves. Elizabeth's book will be a real treat.


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